UKIP in the leaders’ debate? Broadcasting must be devolved!

Britain's PM choices - screenshot
Britain's PM choices – screenshot by Scorpions and Centaurs, on Flickr.
As many other people, I’m absolutely appalled by the announcement that the BBC and the UK’s other main broadcasters will host a leaders’ debate in the run-up to the General Election that includes the Tories, Labour, the LibDems and UKIP, but neither the Green parties nor the SNP.

This is simply ludicrous! I blogged recently about how the pollsters should stop treating Great Britain as one unit, given that the party political systems are very different. In Scotland, the SNP is either the incumbent or the main challenger in most constituencies, and UKIP is nowhere to be seen.

The purpose of a leaders’ debate is to guide people on what to vote, and this selection of parties gives voters in Scotland the misguided idea that UKIP is more of a real party than the SNP. It’s barking mad!

On the other hand, I can understand that people in England don’t really think it’s very relevant to see Nicola Sturgeon in such a debate, given that they cannot vote for her party.

At the same time, the BBC’s idea about a Scottish debate simply doesn’t makes sense, because they want to invite the people leading their parties at Holyrood. However, the Westminster election is about the non-devolved subject areas (e.g., foreign policy, the military and pensions) — exactly the ones that the Holyrood politicians don’t have any influence on.

I hope the BBC and the other broadcasters will change their minds as a matter of priority, but the best way to avoid failures like this in the future is to get full devolution of broadcasting, so that England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland can have completely separate debates hosted by their national broadcasters.

In this way, the English leaders’ debate could include whoever they thought were important (and that might include UKIP), but the Scottish debate would replace the English debate, not supplement it, and so the debate up here would most likely include Nicola Sturgeon (or maybe the SNP’s Westminster leader, Angus Robertson), David Cameron, Ed Miliband, Nick Clegg and perhaps somebody from the Scottish Green Party, and everybody would be happy.

If broadcasting doesn’t get devolved, I guess the SNP will need to start putting up candidates in most English seats, even if it leads to a lot of lost deposits, simply so that it cannot be dismissed as a mere regional party.

5 thoughts on “UKIP in the leaders’ debate? Broadcasting must be devolved!”

  1. I agree that broadcasting should be devolved. However it will only partially solve the distortion. This is because it will be very difficult, if not impossible, to prevent viewers in Scotland from watching the debates for England. While English, Welsh and Northern Irish voters may not be that interested in the view of the SNP as a whole, they are entitled to hear what the SNP would do if it held the balance of power, which is a distinct, if distant, possibility.

    1. Well, of course the devolved Scottish TV channels would be free to purchase and broadcast the English debates in addition to their own ones (just as the English TV channels might do the same about the Scottish ones), but I still think it’d be immensely helpful to get rid of the current shared broadcasters that on paper cater for Scotland but in practice think only about England.

  2. Just think what Lamont, Davidson and Rennie could do for their masters at Westminster!

    Of course, we shouldn’t talk about Cameron running away from a debate with an SNP leader (again), should we?

    1. To be fair, I don’t think the SNP has been excluded this time because Cameron is feart — I think it’s because the broadcasters are designing the debates based on what they think English viewers will find interesting. That’s also why they’re excluding the Greens, who are much too clever, fair and open-minded to make for exciting TV in spite of arguably being a more important party than UKIP in England.

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